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India 5 February 2008

Police protect state minister blamed by journalist’s widow for his murder

Reporters Without Borders called today for a thorough investigation into the murder of journalist Pramod Kumar Munna in the northeastern state of Jharkhand, in which the police are ignoring evidence pointing to the possible involvement of a minister in the state government. Munna was shot dead in the city of Deoghar on 16 December, after being threatened.

“The Jharkhand police and judicial authorities must not yield to political pressure in their investigation into the Munna murder,” the press freedom organisation said. “The involvement of politicians and members of the police must be determined, especially as innocent people seem to have been arrested in order to protect those responsible.”

Munna was the only Indian journalist to be killed because of his work in 2007. There is an urgent need for the authorities in New Delhi, especially the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to look into the case, Reporters Without Borders added.

Munna, who worked for the weekly Samkalin Tapman, was gunned down outside Baidyanath Dham station in Deoghar on 16 December. The next day, shops and schools in Deoghar stayed shut in protest against his murder, while local journalists wore black badges. The protests spread to the regional assembly, where Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda rejected the opposition’s request for a CBI investigation.

In an interview for the magazine Tehelka, Munna’s widow, Parvati Devi, accused the state’s minister of urban development and tourism, Harinarayan Rai, and a parliamentarian of the Rashtriya Jantal Dal party, Banka Giridhari Yadav, of masterminding his murder. Last September, Munna wrote a story accusing Rai, then an independent parliamentarian, and his family of acquiring state property. “The police want to divert the focus of the investigation away from the minister,” she said.

Munna was often threatened and was the victim of an attack in which he lost an eye and his house was set on fire in 2003, after writing about Yadav’s alleged links with Maoist rebels.

“It is the police who killed my husband, as they did not take him to a hospital, and they also allowed the attackers to flee”, his widow told Tehelka.

Deoghar police chief Manoj Kaushik initially promised not to rule out the possibility of Rai’s involvement. But soon afterwards, he announced that Rai was not under suspicion and said the murder appeared to be linked to past grudges involving Maoist rebels or known criminals. Two suspects were arrested. One was from the village that Munna came from. The other was a person linked to Yadav.




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